by Sarah Mitchell, Assistant Producer
Over the weekend, the town of Galena joyously celebrated Sidney Huntington’s 100th Birthday.
I was lucky enough to attend the festivities and meet many of Mr. Huntington’s relatives.
In addition to being the inspiration for our project, Sidney Huntington has had a huge impact on rural Alaskans. If you haven’t read his book, Shadows on the Koyukuk, do yourself a favor and give it a read.
“Grandpa Sid” has led an incredible and at times very difficult life. The immense respect his community feels for him was palpable in the Sidney C. Huntington School gym.
Showing up a few hours early meant I got to meet several of Sidney’s lovely grandkids. Sidney’s granddaughters were unstoppable on the “Balloon Committee.”
The gym started to fill up right at 5 p.m., with folks eager to greet the honoree. Sidney’s entrance was quite a “rock star moment,” as the crowd in the packed gym leapt to their feet and many clamored to get a photo of him.
The potlatch was an amazing feat all in itself. Sidney’s scrappy relatives donned plastic gloves, circling the gym with each dish. It was an exciting game to see which delicacies would swing by your set of bleachers, and a team effort to make sure everyone got served.
After dinner, the program began, with many special tributes to Mr. Huntington. Several letters Sidney had received were read aloud by his relatives, including greetings from President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Senator Lisa Murkowski, and Jim Rearden, co-author of Shadows on the Koyukuk. Speakers shared stories of Sidney’s myriad contributions to Alaska, including his role in establishing an independent school district in the Yukon-Koyukuk region. Though it’s impossible to sum up all the wonderful sentiments, below are some quotes that stood out to me.
“You demonstrate the true mark of a man.” –Agnes Sweetsir, Sidney’s daughter, and primary organizer of the event
“He always helped the poor people.”
–Rose Ambrose, elder from Huslia
Reverend Anna Frank of Minto addressed the young people in the crowd, encouraging them to read Shadows on the Koyukuk. “We don’t have to read about other people to be educated. This man who is 100 years old is OUR educator. Be proud of that.”
“You’ll always be there, center court, cheering us on.” –Beth Buchanan, about Sidney’s support of Galena’s basketball program.
Sidney and his wife of 72 years, Angela, graciously greeted admirers throughout the evening, posing for hundreds of pictures and sharing hugs with dear friends and family. Towards the end of the night, all the kids and grandkids gathered for a photo.
Sidney and Angela stayed out until nearly 11 p.m., enjoying live music and visiting with old friends. I’m so thrilled to have had the privilege to attend this celebration. It’s inspiring to see how one person’s life can impact so many.
~Sarah Mitchell, Assistant Producer